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  • Traveling through the Balkans, the hardest choice I had to make was sitting in Macedonia and trying to decide between going to Kosovo or Albania, and I chose Albania. The first thing you notice when you enter Albania from Macedonia is all the cement bunkers everywhere, built on the orders of their paranoid former Communist leader, Enver Xosha. I mean, they were everywhere, large and small. And Albanian geography just is not even close to the gorgeous mountains and lakes of Macedonia or Bosnia, or the sublime Dalmatian Coast, it's mostly a downhill ride through dry dusty hills from the mountains to the semi-arid Adriatic.

    On the road to Tirane, the capitol, we hit some traffic on out in the middle of nowhere on the top of this hill. As we crept slowly along, I noticed that there had been an accident of some sort up ahead. Though I still couldn't see the wreck, there were a bunch of people milling about and some police cars. But as we passed the scene, I saw the problem. There were no wrecked cars, just a dead body lying on the side of the road, covered with a sheet. Only the painted toe nails stuck out. Who knows what had happened, your imagination tends to run wild when seeing something like that. Maybe she was just walking down the road and got hit, which is definitely plausible considering how people drive in Albania. But we were really out in the middle of nowhere, where could she have been walking to? Maybe her body had just been dumped out there by somebody. I don't know. We drove on. But those painted toenails sticking out from under that sheet has stuck with me to this day.

    We pulled into Tirane around two or three. I only had one night in town before I had to work my way to meet my friends in Sarajevo. So I checked into a hostel, took a shower, locked up my bags, and went off into the city for what ended up being a long, wandering walk, the best kind of walk, taking pictures along the way. Tirane itself is definitely not one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I found it fascinating. On one block I'd be walking, and everything would be new and clean and European, but I'd turn down the next block and the streets would be unpaved, the apartment houses dilapidated, and chickens, sheep and horses milling around, like I was in a village somewhere. And this happened right in the center of the city, two blocks from the main city square. The little river (creek?) that runs through the center of town has been turned into a big paved drainage ditch. The former residence of the dictator is a ranch-style compound that looks like something Mike Brady designed for the suburbs of Southern California. As the day wound down I found myself in a huge park along a reservoir. There was a decrepit, decaying stone amphitheater in the park that looked like it could have been a Greek ruin, but I quickly realized that it had probably been built in the last fifty years, a Communist ruin. Walking along the reservoir I saw a carnival in the distance and made my way to the rusting hulks of roller-coasters, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel.

    Now I had no idea where I was, except I had made it out to some residential suburbs. I wandered through some apartment buildings as night fell, trying to decide which direction I should go to make it back to the hostel. Even if I wanted to take the easy way and hail a cab, I had no idea what the address was or anything. Amazingly, I ended up back where I was started fairly easily, after walking through what I guessed was the club and bar district. Yes, I accidentally stumbled onto the party zone. Unfortunately, it was a Monday night, and once the World Cup game that was playing finished, everything went dead. I ended up finishing my Albanian beer as the only guy in the place.

    The next morning I got up, caught my bus, and left for Montenegro. It is unfortunate that I had such little time there, but in the end Albania was just a stopover on my way to Dubrovnik and Sarajevo. But I had a nice walk through the town, took some cool pictures, and had a pint of Albanian beer. I had even come across a dead body. For one day, that's all I could ask for, except a snow globe would have been nice.

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